Thu, Nov 6, 2008 (midnight)
When Mike Weller performed in my living room in February, he fashioned a makeshift guitar strap out of a shoelace from my wife’s closet. That display of real-world ingenuity presaged the full-length debut to follow some eight months later—an imaginatively crafted record grounded in its creator’s everyday observations and dreams.
All 10 tracks on Hungry Cloud feel intensely personal; the outwardly quiet Weller runs deep on thoughtful contemplation, loading his well-chosen words with an inviting emotional warmth. “You’re my friends even on the nights I don’t speak/I’m not scared of what I’ve done/’Cause when we die, eventually we fade back into/The world we know, the world we love,” he sings on “The World We Know,” one of several tunes battle-tested in coffeehouses and bars long before Weller stepped into the Las Vegas home studio of National Southwestern Electronic Recordings producer Ronald Corso.
The album—presently available for download only—features contributions from more than a dozen musicians on the underground scene (the violin work on “Apple Tree” by Weller’s A Crowd of Small Adventures bandmate Megan Wingerter is particularly dazzling). But make no mistake, the heart of Hungry Cloud is Weller’s, from its compositional diversity—which finds him lavishly poppy (the Death-Cabby “For Water”), acoustically spare (holdover demo “Here”) and many points in between—to his untrained singing voice, more about immediacy and character than exactness in pitch and intonation.
Lyrics like “I don’t cry a lot/Sometimes I want to” might not jump off a page, but Weller makes gentle simplicity resonate brightly. Even when he speaks of far-away places, he reveals more of himself. The idyllic setting of opener “We Are Alive” (“We slept on a hillside/The grass grew in your eyes”) conveys an unmistakable desire to escape reality and “live in a dream,” a motive similarly echoed in epic tale “The Key” (“Once in another life/I was the captain of a ship/We searched the world for a flame to burn the darkness from my heart”). Listening, you get the sense Weller has experienced some hard times in his 25-odd years.
At its core, however, Hungry Cloud is optimistic. “The world was better then/Life is better now,” Weller reasons in “Books.” Or maybe, like most everything in the real world, it’s uncertain, a sentiment reflected in the most memorable line from its most memorable song, “(Oh Oh) I Feel Much Better Now”: “It’s better not to love … or is it?”